As a vision guy, I get asked lots of questions about long-term this and short-term that. Here is the thinking that I believe you can really hang your hat on as a leader: Engage five horizons but spend most of your time with three.

To understand the basic three, you will want to think like a landscape oil painter. Every landscape painting contains three planes that create the visual interest and ultimately the beauty of the painting. Painters call these, foreground, middleground and background. Here is a drawing that shows how the "picture plane" works to create depth. All that painters are doing is capturing how we  see reality all of the time. While you eyes are open your brain is processing visually, "the here, the near and the far."

The three basic horizons of leadership are the same three planes for your organization's future. Vision is the ability to paint a picture that illustrates and anticipates where God is taking your ministry, on all three planes. Now, let's get practical with timing.

The basic three horizons are:

  • Foreground - The 90-day horizon

  • Middleground - The 1-year horizon

  • Background - The 3-year horizon

Here is the most important consideration for each horizon with thoughts on two additional ones.

#1 The 90 Day Horizon

Leaders should  use it with an execution focus. I also refer to this as the 90-day season of success. The beauty of this horizon is that it provides enough time to make changes and shift priorities yet it's not to far for sustained emotional engagement. In other words, there is enough time for real progress that you can really feel.   It's also particularly useful for church planning which follows a semester flow.

#2 The 1-Year Horizon

This is the most fundamental horizon and leaders use with a visioning focus. It is the most useful viewpoint for creating a sense of alignment, enthusiasm,  and success for a group of people. God hardwired the annual cycle into creation. We plan our budgets by it and measure our lives by it. The starting point in my coaching for articulating vision is having a singular, one-year priority. Could every leader in your church respond to the question, "Where is God taking us?" with a one-year viewpoint? I refer to this regularly as a missional milestone. 

#3 The 3-Year Horizon

It has been said that its easy to overestimate what you can do in one year, and underestimate what you can do in three years. Effective leaders see beyond the annual outlook and use this horizon with a planning focus. It is helpful to determine up to four big "background ideas" for your 3-year panning. 

#4 The "Beyond-the- Horizon"

I name this horizon as such to help re-calibrate how leaders think about long-range planning. Basically, most of what was taught in strategic planning is not useful today because the speed of change has accelerated. Therefore, we can embrace the notion that planning in the 5-20 year range is more about fantasizing than planning. (See Craig Groeshel's little post entitled, Death of the Five-year Plan.) Nevertheless, the beyond the horizon may impact decisions related to life-stage decisions, major directional shifts or planning related to facilities and land.  Leaders should not presume on this horizon or disregard it completely. At Auxano we use a horizon storyline to develop language for this horizon. 

#5 The Infinite Horizon

This dimension should be used for vision-casting on a very high level. Some cultures have phrases, metaphors and stories  that transcend and unify time. In Church Unique, I make fun of the overuse of what I call the "lofty one-liner" as the total model for a vision statement. But used correctly, a beautiful and ideal phrase may be a permanent part of the organization's vision vocabulary. For example, I met with a pastor today, who uses the dominant metaphor of "every thirst quenched" when describing the vision of his church. By itself, it doesn't do much as vision. But placed on the infinite horizon, it can capture culture and create movement as long as it is tied to inspiring, achievable milestones in shorter term horizons.